A frustrated Chuck Grassley pulled over on a gravel road two miles from his Iowa farm to talk to the president who was flying home on Air Force One.
It was 3:15 p.m. Friday and the criminal justice reform bill the Iowa Republican had been championing was stuck at a roadblock – Mitch McConnell.
Grassley made his pitch.
“I used what I consider a historical argument. I said, ‘Listen, majority leaders, if they’re the same party as the president, ought to be carrying out the president’s agenda,'” Grassley recalled to USA TODAY.
Despite broad bipartisan support, including an unusual coalition of civil rights groups, conservatives and Donald Trump, the Senate majority leader had not budged on the call to bring the “First Step Act” to the floor for a vote.
“He said well, ‘Do you think I oughta tweet?’” the senator remembered.
At 3:56 p.m. Trump fired off a tweet.
“Hopefully Mitch McConnell will ask for a VOTE on Criminal Justice Reform. It is extremely popular and has strong bipartisan support,” he wrote. “It will also help a lot of people, save taxpayer dollars, and keep our communities safe. Go for it Mitch!”
Four days later, to the surprise and relief of supporters, McConnell went to the Senate floor and announced he would put the bill to a vote. On Monday evening, the Senate is scheduled to vote to open debate on the bill. It’s likely to pass later this week.
The measure aims to reduce the number of inmates in the nation’s crowded prisons. It would, among other things, give judges more discretion in sentencing offenders for nonviolent crimes, particularly drug offenses, and strengthen rehabilitation programs for former prisoners.
If the Senate approves the measure it must go back to the House, where it’s also expected to pass. Trump has already said he would sign it into law.
But the path to finally becoming law hasn’t been easy. It has been a yearslong fight of compromising, stalling and maneuvering in public – and behind the scenes.
“If you’re wondering why this thing ever came up, we’ve done everything everybody asked us to,” Grassley said. “It’s kind of how do you eat 10,000 marshmallows? One at a time. How do you get a co-sponsor or how do you get another person to say yes to the whip call? You do it one at a time.”